See Part One Here: Planning and Gear Breakdown
Join Kevin Anderson as he tests out his all wool clothing set and Lucky Sheep Sleeping Bag on the Trans Zion Trail in early April with his buddies who have mostly synthetic gear.
After our flights into Vegas, rental car pickup, shopping for supplies, the 2+ hour drive to Zion, and sorting out permits at the visitor center, we finally made it to the Lee Pass Trailhead just as darkness was setting in. But, we still had to re-pack all of our backpacks!!
With all the excitement with repacking, I was grateful to have spent all the time sorting out my gear in the spreadsheet beforehand as well as shedding all the extra ounces, because this made for a much lighter pack. When we finally got all sorted out and on our way, it was stars-out and headlamps-on for the 6 ½ miles to our first campsite (La Verkin Creek #7).
After a long day it was good to get the tent set up and jump in our bags for an easy, warm nights rest. Because I was already hiking in wool, all I had to do was jump in the wool sleeping bag and wrap it up like a burrito. This was the easiest night’s sleep I’ve ever had backpacking!
With an absolutely breathtaking morning, we took our time getting going. Even though we faced a 15 ½ mile day, it was worth it to sleep in a little and and enjoy a hot breakfast of Mountain House MREs. Sam brought his new gravity water filter which made gathering water to boil a cinch.
A highlight of that morning was taking 10 minutes to meditate among the trees and canyons, something I had never tried before. A lot of the hiking that we did on this day was with warm weather in the 70s and through hot sand. One particular section took us through Hop Valley, a 6 ½ mile stretch of very open and spacious valley carved out of the park. It was here that we all stopped to take a couple portraits.
This wound up being our longest day. Eventually we made it to the Connector Trail, where we stopped to eat and then headed further down the trail to Wildcat Canyon. Little did we know that the warm and balmy weather was about to surprise us in a really unexpected way. After hiking all day we finally made it to our campsite in Wildcat Canyon. At this point the weather had dropped to the 40s and we were starting to see some snow around us.
How did that happen? Only hours ago we were hiking through sand under the hot sun. We rented micro spikes on the recommendation of rangers and the local adventure company in town, but we weren’t feeling very excited about possible snow on the ground. We felt a little uneasy that night as we slept in the cold, although I was still warm in the wool!
A fresh start to the day! We tried (and failed) to get going a little earlier this day, and still wound up starting our hike at 11am. I was a bit concerned about the 13+ miles we had to hike ahead of us with the potential snow, but we geared up. After some coffee, our spirits were high and we were ready to blaze the trail.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last as long as we hoped. We immediately ran into snow — and not just a little bit of snow, but literally FEET of snow. The only trail for some time became one set of footprints. At this point we had to make a decision. Do we continue on without snowshoes, potentially getting stuck in a bad situation, or do we turn back and face miles of backtracking and hitchhiking and bail on our trip that we had spent so much time looking forward to? Of course we trudged on!
The day went by as we slowly made our way through the deep snow. Sometimes it wasn’t clear where the trail was, and other times it was very precarious trying to cross above underground water crossings, hoping not to break through the snowpack and fall in. There wasn’t much conversation as the hiking was very challenging and demanding. After about 5 miles, we eventually made it to the spring at the end of Wildcat Canyon, where we filled up on water and took a break for some much needed food.
It was around then that I realized my shin was starting to hurt. Walking through the snow and having it give way randomly under your stride made it very difficult to walk, and one of those occasions must have tweaked my leg somehow. I decided to ignore it and continue on a little slower and a little more careful, wishing we had snow shoes and hoping the conditions would somehow improve on our trail. However, the weather only got colder and the snow only got deeper.
My leg was hurting quite a bit now and making it difficult to walk. We stopped after making the connection to the West Rim trailhead. At this point we had hiked over 25 miles since our start. As my leg began to hurt more and more with every step, I was really worried we had perhaps made the wrong decision earlier…
At the West Rim Trailhead the snow was so deep it was ridiculous. Trees were almost completely covered with snow to their top branches and we had not seen anyone in over 24 hours of hiking. With my leg in pain and the conditions of the trail less than ideal, we decided not to hike the 13+ miles on the West Rim to get to the Grotto.
We had read that that portion of the hike was very exposed, and given our current circumstances that could prove to be downright dangerous. We decided to try hiking out to a road that leads to the West Rim Trailhead, hoping that it would be plowed. This involved gaining even more elevation and summiting a nearby peak.
After hours of trudging through this elevation gain, following faint snowmobile tracks, we managed to get to the top where we found a Ranger Residence. Our luck had finally turned! Alas, nobody was home and it was totally locked down, plus the road was not plowed after all! By this time spirits were pretty low, and it was getting very cold and late and threatening to rain, so the only thing we could do was set up the tent nearby.
Did I mention our boots, feet, and toes were basically blocks of ice? That night was a struggle at 8,000 ft elevation as the temperature dropped below freezing and we experienced a powerful rain storm. The Lucky Sheep sleeping bag became truly one of the most important pieces of gear I brought as much of my clothing became wet. I was still able to stay warm and cozy even in the worst of conditions.
The guys spent the next morning trying to cheer me up because my leg wasn’t getting any better and we still faced a 9+ mile hike back down the unplowed road to get out of the snow.
The good news is we finally got going early on day 4…. 9am! Haha. We made our way down the road slowly and carefully. Even though it was uncomfortable hiking I couldn’t help but take in the beauty of the snow covered road and hills around us. We made it about 4 hours until a man in side-by-side outfitted for snow blasted up the road and stopped to ask, “What the hell are you doing out here??” He was nice enough to not only give us a ride back down to the snowline, but also the ENTIRE way back to our car in Lee Pass.
This easily took 1 ½ hours of driving. I was so grateful. We made it out alive. And we got a pretty great story too. Once we got back to the car we were able to drive back around to the other side of the park and stay in the cabins at the Zion Lodge. I highly recommend staying here if you can. The views and accommodations were exactly what we needed after 4 days and 35+ miles of difficult hiking. Despite all the challenges we encountered and cutting the route short, it was still the trip of a lifetime. The views were awesome, the snow was immaculate, and we were the only ones for miles. It was such a humbling experience to be in nature this way. I wish I had the opportunity to take more pictures and videos as it was truly an incredible hike, even with all the challenges we faced! I’ll have to get them on a return trip someday!
High definition photos provided by Sam Price-Waldman.